Let me ask this “stupid” question—“Can a black person be happy?” I can hear the moans and groans—there she goes again with this race stuff. Will you bear with me before you move on? The first time I heard the word “happy” was when I was around 5 or 6. I only heard the word “happy” when it was used to describe a black person who shouted and jumped off a pew in church. And when church was over the older women would talk about “who got happy in church.” This was my lifetime reference for “being happy”—throwing up my hands and jumping off a pew in church—which meant that I was never happy—and never going to be happy.
Back in 1981 I wrote a book that made it rounds to white publishers who finally rejected the manuscript for reasons I still don’t understand. The book was entitled, “How to Stop Waiting.” It was 232 pages and had a chapter entitled “Finding Your Happiness Line.” I have long since lost or thrown away the manuscript but I remember that I tried to explain the concept of “waiting” and that it did not mean “sitting back doing nothing” while expecting or wishing for some type of good fortune to fall from the sky. I described waiting as a process of doing something worthwhile during that period of time when something you expected had not come to fruition—as in “wait on the Lord.” To wait on the Lord does not mean to sit around idly doing nothing with your faith. To “wait on the Lord” to me has come, by personal experience to mean that I have a duty to make my requests known to God through prayer but to also allow God to guide my footsteps each day until such time as what I have prayed or hoped for comes to pass. And I have learned through personal experience that much of what I prayed for came to pass in a totally different form or manner that what I expected—and might I add better that what I expected.
The same goes for happiness. Today I finally got around to reading some of the comment to my “why give a duck about Phil Robertson” column and someone posted that Robertson also said something about black people being happy back when. The comment said something to the effect that I did not comment on Robertson’s stupid statement about “happy black people.” My rejected book about “finding your happiness line” described happiness not as a state of being but as a “state of doing.” I find it odd that over the past year “happiness” was a hot topic across all media. Hey I wrote the book on happiness in 1981 and couldn’t even find a publisher. I think the reason for the rejections was that no white publisher believed that a black woman could write, promote, or engage in decent conversation about happiness because the presumption is that black people cannot be happy. So I ask again, can a black person be happy? Today a front page Washington post story said that 50 percent of all black men will be arrested by age 23. And you know the rest of the story of how black men (and black folks in general) have been marginalized and criminalized by the American criminal justice system. Can a black person, with any depth of awareness and understanding of the black experience in America—the slavery, the lynchings, the murders, the bigotry, the racism, be happy? Are the President and First Lady happy? Is Oprah Winfrey happy? Is the black woman who just won one-half of the $648 million Mega-Millions jackpot happy? Does rich equate with happiness.
My last column was entitled, “Happy New Year—Get some sleep.” The operative word in the title was “happy.” To say “Happy New Year” means exactly what? Does it mean to walk around always smiling? Does it mean to always be upbeat and positive about one’s life? Does being happy mean to never worry about anything as in “Don’t Worry-Be Happy.” Are all the marijuana smokers in Colorado now happy? How does one find happiness—and exactly what is it?
I have come to know over my 60+ years of living that what people call happiness is wrong and misguided. No one never worries about anything. No one walks around smiling all day long. No one is always positive and upbeat about life with all its ups and downs. One of the situations I used in my rejected manuscript to describe happiness was on the precise topic of drugs and other mind-altering substances. Addictions of all sorts are an attempt by the users to remain in a permanent state of euphoria. It’s call chasing “that high.” And “chasing that high” had caused many a downfall of folks who just could not allow themselves to experience life without feeling some type of “happiness buzz.”
Being happy is more about one’s “soul contentment” than about a temporary “good feeling.” People who shout and jump off a pew in church can truly be “moved by the spirit” of the moment from a well-sung song, or a rousing sermon, or a whole congregation of folks supposedly “moving in the spirit.” But when church is over then what? Where does happiness go when the church doors close? Are the same shouting women happy to leave church and go to abusive homes, crazy wild children, poor finances, piss-poor underpaid jobs, lack of money, lack of food, raggedy cars that won’t half start? Are they happy then? A person is no happier than the “contentment within their souls” amid the worst of circumstances. If you are only happy when you are shopping for shoes then you not happy. If you are only happy when you are engaging in something that removes you from yourself then you are not happy—you are engaging in escapism. Remember the old song, “Happiness is a thing called Joe.” Well if Joe leaves will happiness go with him?
Let me end. When I described the “happiness line” in my rejected manuscript what I was describing was a lifestyle in which one is anchored and grounded by personal contentment. I started by pointing to the first three letters of happiness, “hap,” which does not suggest anything inherently long-term or permanent. I then described a happiness line as a straight line that runs across the middle of a blank sheet of paper. This line will not remain straight over the course of a day, week, month, year or lifetime. There will be dips, low points of sadness, and high points of extreme joy. But the point of the happiness line I described was to find an anchor in the normalcy of life that will buffer the highs and lows and keep your soul grounded and free of constant battering by all the ups and downs. So what goes into a happiness line? A lifetime of seeking personal growth and spiritual growth. Do something worthwhile, learn something new, improve yourself, eat healthy food, learn a new language, improve your grammar, plant a garden, learn to play a musical instrument, read a book, write a poem, take a long walk, go fishing, make new friends, get rid of old baggage friends, talk to God, form a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, read your Bible, find a moral compass for what is right and wrong, engage yourself with helping others, be concerned about someone other than yourself—be positive toward other people. Stop dwelling on past mistakes and wrongs. Wake up each day, pray and ask God to “led me, guide me.” Learn to listen to God and slow down. Therein is where you will find your happiness line and your soul’s contentment.
Copyright 2013 – L. Arthalia Cravin. All rights Reserved. No part of this commentary may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without written permission from the author.